Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Encarta Shuts Down, But What About Student Impact?

Today I learned Microsoft was shutting down Encarta. Growing up with my physical 29-volume set of encyclopedias, I've long accepted the fact that the web has transformed the encyclopedia business.

Many cite Wikipedia contributing to its demise. No surprise. I like Wikipedia, but I also see the value of an officially published resource. TechCrunch jokes about how the Wikipedia entry about Encarta's demise is already updated, while there is no update on Encarta's own site about its own fate.

Even though Wikipedia leverages the wisdom of crowds, should it always be treated as a "legitimate" referenceable source in a student's report?

I am more worried about the broader impact on students and their digital literacy. Are kids today being taught to discriminate between fact and opinion online? I worked with K-8 students a few years ago, and I would see students list Google as a source in the References section at the back of reports. Hello, that's a search engine, not a source! Or educating kids on the fact that just because it's online, it's not always true.

Should teachers accept Wikipedia as a citable source? Whether you liked Encarta or not, it is sad to see a trusted resource shut down because it is students that lose.


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